In this article, we shall discuss the rules on the use of body-worn cameras in the execution of warrants. It is no less than the fundamental law of the land under the Bill of Rights specifically, Section 2, Article 3 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution enshrines the rights of the citizens of the Philippines to be secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In the same vein, under the constitutional protection provided for under Section 1 of the same Article is the basic legal precept that no person may be deprived of his liberty with the exception of the availability of a warrant of arrest or commitment issued by a judge by virtue of a probable cause.
Taking into account the increasing reports of civilian deaths resulting from the alleged excessive execution of warrants, may it be search or for arrest, where the causes of such deaths appear to be questionable, the highest judicial court received letters from various lawyers’ groups and human right groups, beseeching it to formulate a legal procedure in the issuance of search warrants.
The Supreme Court happily obliged by virtue of its vested power to promulgate rules and regulations for the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts.1
Rules on the use of body-worn cameras in the execution of warrants
The Supreme Court, in utilizing the available advances in technology, created A.M. No. 21-06-08-SC entitled Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras in the Execution of Warrants to assist law enforcement as well as to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights.
Taking into consideration the provisions under Republic Act no. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012 excluding the information necessary for the effective carriage of law enforcement functions from the ambit of its protection.2
In connection thereto, the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) as well as the Philippine National Police (PNP) issued their respective memorandum prescribing minimum standard specifications for the body-worn cameras to be used3 and the Operational Guidelines and Policies on the use of the same.4 With the budgetary support by the Congress in the procurement of the body-worn cameras for the use of PNP.
The use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement agencies for the purpose of ensuring the fundamental human rights of persons and places searched as well as arrested, is not a novel design.
In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has published a research report that the main reasons of local police and sheriff’s offices acquired body-worn cameras for the purpose of improving officer safety, increase evidence quality, reduce civilian complaints, and reduce agency liability.5
It can be concluded that the use of body-worn cameras in law enforcement operations works both ways for the law enforcer and the person or place to be searched or arrested. The PNP, as the primary law enforcement agency of the country, was tasked to procure the much-needed body-worn cameras immediately.
However, despite the full support of the Congress, the said law enforcement agency encountered some problems with the procurement of the same due to lack of funding. The demand was immediate however, the fund did not arrive as promptly as necessary.
Scope and Applicability of A. M. No. 21-06-08-SC
The subject rules and procedures are set to be applicable to any applications, issuances and executions of arrest and search warrants under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. Further, the same applies to warrantless arrests as provided for under Section 3, Rule 2 of the said rules.6 It is not only the aforementioned law enforcement agencies that adopted the use of body-worn cameras in their operations.
An example of the issuances in accordance with the rules is in the Bureau of Customs (BOC), through Customs Memorandum Order (CMO) no. 33-2021 that also applied the use of the body-worn cameras in the exercise of Police Authority within its Area of Responsibility (AoR).
In the said CMO, the BOC enumerated the events which upon the happening thereto, requires the use of the body-worn cameras. Some of which are as follows:
- Approved controlled delivery operation;7
- Boarding formalities;8
- Conduct of auction sales;9
- Destruction or condemnation of goods, including the transport thereof to the designated facility;10
- Hot pursuit; etc.11
As for the application of A.M. no. 21-06-08-SC on warrantless arrests, there are three recognized exceptions to the constitutional requirement of warrant to arrest, namely: (1) In Flagrante Delicto Arrests; (2) Hot Pursuit Arrests; and (3) Re-arrest of escaped prisoners. Under the conditions and circumstances of the enumerated exceptions, a law enforcer must be accompanied by a body-worn camera.
Mandatory Nature of the Use of Body-Worn Camera
The Supreme Court acknowledged the challenges that our law enforcement may encounter in acquiring body-worn cameras in such short notice. Various issues even arose in the procurement of the said device.
The Supreme Court did not limit the mandatory use of body-worn cameras to the use of high-end military grade units. A.M. No. 21-06-08-SC also provided for alternative recording devices that may be used to comply with the requirement of the rules. The rule has provided for the definition, to wit:
Alternative Recording Device12 – An electronic system which is not a body-worn camera, that is capable of creating, generating, sending, receiving, storing, displaying, and processing audio-visual recordings, and may be worn during law enforcement activities. It may be used as a substitute for body-worn cameras in case of unavailability. To be uses as functional equivalent, it shall comply with the minimum standard requirement:
|Video resolution||720p or higher|
|Frame rate||30 frames per second|
|Data and Time Stamping||Built-in|
|Battery Life||8 hours continuous|
|Storage||Capable of storing 8 hours continuous
In any case, the alternative recording device shall be capable of capturing with reasonable clarity the events that transpire during the implementation of the warrant.
The Supreme Court has made mandatory the compliance of law enforcement agencies to the use of body-worn cameras and alternative recording device with hopes to minimize civilian complaints and at the same time, provide safety to the law enforcers.
The subject rules promulgated by the Supreme Court dated June 29, 20211 has strictly required the use of body-worn cameras. In case of implementation of a Search Warrant, failure to comply, without reasonable ground, with the directive of A.M. No. 21-06-08-SC will render any evidence obtained by virtue of a valid search warrant inadmissible in any proceedings where the search warrant was applied.13
Warrant of Arrest
On the other hand, in the event of execution of Warrant of Arrest, failure to comply with the use of the body-worn camera or any alternative recording device in Section 4  of Rule 1 of A.M. No. 21-06-08-SCwill not render the arrest unlawful or any evidence obtained during the execution of the warrant of arrest inadmissible.
However, willful non-observance of the mandatory requirements thereof by the law enforcer executing the warrant of arrest shall make him liable for contempt of court.
For the Supreme Court, it stated that the facts surrounding the arrest may be proved by the witnesses to the arrest.
It should be noted that it is also required, under the rules, to inform the persons who will be arrested14 or the legitimate occupants of the area being searched15 that the execution of the warrants is recorded and that the enforcing officers are executing the arrest or search by virtue of a valid warrant. The phrase “shall” employed by the Supreme Court denotes a mandatory requirement for compliance.
Alternatives to the Body-Worn Camera
The procurement process of our government is governed by Republic Act no. 9184 of the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA). It must be emphasized that the procurement process is very tedious and very precise. This is to promote transparency, competitiveness, streamlining of the process, that there is a system of accountability, and public monitoring.16
Every purchase that the government makes must comply with the requirements of GPRA. This is the reason why the acquisition of the body-worn cameras for the law enforcement agencies was briefly delayed. Even as to the writing of this article, the logistical supply of law enforcement agencies, particularly the inventory of body-worn cameras, are still scarce.
One unit of a high-end body-worn camera is worth around P5,000 to P20,000. If we look into the numbers of law enforcers that the Philippines have nationwide, the SC rules on the use of body-worn cameras will definitely cost the country so much.
During the reign of PGEN Guillermo Eleazar in the PNP, he admitted that the organization did not have enough body-worn cameras. Around the year 2021, the organization has only distributed 2,696 body-worn cameras around 171 police stations and units nationwide.17
Another alternative to body-worn cameras, the police department in New Jersey are developing mobile apps that can be uses as an alternative recording device using the cameras and the microphones of their always present and available smartphones18 the apps allow police officers to live-stream videos to their respective supervisors and provide their exact location using the Global Positioning System (GRS) technology.
In the Philippines, however, even if there is scarcity of body-worn cameras, the rules do not permit the immediate use of an alternative recording device. There is a procedure outlined in A.M. no. 21-06-08-SC in the request for the use of a different recording device. In the event that the body-worn cameras are unavailable, such a request must be filed through an ex parte motion with the court issuing the warrant, requesting permission to use an alternative recording device.19
If the trial court finds merit in the motion, an order will be issued allowing the utilization of an alternative to the body-worn camera which will be attached to, and will form part of the arrest warrant.
Circumstances when the Body-Worn Camera may be Turned Off
According to a memorandum issued by the Philippine National Police spearheaded by then PNP Chief PGEN Eleazar, body-worn cameras and alternative recording devices must not be turned off at any time during the process of the execution of any search or arrest warrant, nor can it be turned off during the implementation of a valid warrantless arrest. However, he qualified the same by using the term “as far as practicable”.
Similarly, A.M. no. 21-06-08-SC also provides for instances where the body-worn cameras or alternative recording devices may be turned off, as follows:20
- Communications between law enforcement personnel unrelated to the conduct of the search or the arrest;21
- Encounters with undercover officers or confidential informants;22
- When law enforcement officers on break or otherwise engaged in personal or non-work related activities;23
- Inside restrooms, locker rooms, or other places where there is a similar expectation of privacy, and there is no legal reason to be present unless the premises are covered by the search warrant;24
- In locations where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy such as in residence, unless the recording is being made pursuant to a valid arrest or search warrant of the individuals or locations;25
- Strip or body cavity searches when such is necessary as provided in the warrant;26
- Conduct of tactical planning before conducting the search or the arrest;27
- Privileged communications between the subject of recordings and other individuals, such as attorneys, members of the clergy, peer support counselors, and medical professionals; and28
- Such other circumstances may be provided by the trial court issuing the warrant which is part of constitutional privilege and where the dignity of an individual may outweigh the public necessity for recording.29
Remedies when searched or arrested by a non-compliant law enforcer
Section 8, Rule 4 of A.M. no. 21-06-08-SC provides that, as an additional remedy under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedures, a person may file a motion to suppress evidence if either a search or arrest is one without sufficient compliance to the rule provided for in the said rules without any justifiable grounds.30
- Supreme Court of the Philippines Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras in the Execution of Warrants A.M. No. 21-06-08-SC
- Section 4 Republic Act no. 10173 [e]
- NAPOLCOM Resolution no. 2017-369
- PNP Memorandum Circular no. 2018-009
- Hyland, S., Body-Worn Cameras in Law Enforcement Agencies, 2016, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2018
- Section 2 of A.M. No. 21-06-08-SC
- Section 4, CMO No. 33-2021
- Section 4, Id.
- Section 7, Rules 3, A.M. No. 21-06-08-SC
- Section 2, Rule 2, Id.
- Section 4, Rule 3, Id.
- Section 3, Republic Act no. 9184 [Governing Principles on Government Procurement]
- Nepumuceno, Use of Body Cams, Recording Devices in Police Ops Now Mandatory
- PD tests cellphone app as cheaper alternative to body cameras
- Section 1 Rule 2, Supra.
- Section 10 Rule 4, Supra.
- Section 8, Rule 3, Id.